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NHL 12 steps it up a notch and brings back some legends

Sept 28, 2011

By Ted Kritsonis - G4 Canada

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NHL 12If you've played EA's NHL franchise the last couple of years, you may have noticed that not a whole lot changed along the way. Incremental updates and cosmetic facelifts made the game play and look better, but there were still some things missing. NHL 12 aims to fill in some gaps, but also makes an attempt to be innovative for the first time in a while.

Now, I should preface this by saying that by no means were NHL 10 and NHL 11 bad games. Far from it. It's just that they could've done more to push the envelope. Changing fighting was one thing, but what about physics and mechanics? And how about providing a way to experience the game differently?

Two things were implemented to address those questions. First, goalie animations have been overhauled to reflect real-life situations, like how crashing the net can knock them out of position or make it tough to make a save. Second, Be a Legend mode makes it possible to play a modern game like this with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux, among others.

But before getting into Be a Legend, I'll focus on what stands out about the gameplay. New things like the goalie interaction, shattered glass, helmets popping off, checks into player benches and the net off its moorings are some of the obvious ones, but there are others. Goalies can sprawl to make desperation saves, they're more prone to pokecheck in close and may be timid in playing the puck if their rating isn't great in that department. As for the skaters, they stumble more based on contact and lining up a good hit is actually harder than it was before.

NHL 12 This is partly based on improved AI on both sides, though some old bugaboos still plague the game. AI-controlled players on your team no longer chase the puck unless it makes sense to do so from a positional standpoint. For example, if an opposing player is carrying the puck up the boards in the neutral zone, only the closest winger or centre pursues him, with the defenceman on that side activating into the play at the blue line. The point is that you don't get your AI players all chasing the puck, but rather getting into position to take a pass. This is why cross-ice passes must have more zip on them to get across to where your teammate is going to be, rather than where he is. Soft passes either end up behind him, or are easily picked off.

While improved, the same old positional issues from previous games still come up. AI players can be frustrating when they don't always go where they should. This is even more pronounced in the defensive zone, where your teammates make puzzling choices on coverage and breakouts.

As for the depth of the game, there is no shortage of options to go through here. Be a Legend is just the latest mode to enter the fray, where nine greats - Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman, Gordie Howe, Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Borje Salming and Patrick Roy - are accessible once you unlock them. To do that, you have to go through Be a Pro (CHL or NHL) and earn experience points to reach a Superstar level or . Once you've done that, then you can play as the legends you've unlocked and put them on any team you like. It's a nice mode, but it's not quite what it could be. It would've been awesome to relive some big games with these players, like Mario Lemieux's comeback in 2000 or Gretzky's chance to win a Cup with the Kings in 1993, but it's not like that. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that EA should do what the 2K series used to do when it had older teams that you could unlock and play as at will.

NHL 12 Be a GM is more or less the same, except dumb trades aren't as commonplace. They still do happen though, and some free agent signings also make no sense, but the general vibe around this mode is definitely improved.

One neat feature that transcends the modes is the Action Tracker. Whether you're simulating a full game or just a period, you can intervene at anytime to take matters into your own hands. And this applies to Be a GM, Be a Pro and Be a Legend. Simulating shifts where you're on the bench in Be a Pro is a welcome sight, and coach's tasks help give you some incentive on what you need to do to win favour with the coaching staff to get more ice time.

One gripe I'll point out here is the unforgiving difficulty in All-Star and Superstar. It's hard because it's outrageously skewed, making it a very cheap brand of hockey. There is no reason why George Parros should be catching up to Alex Ovechkin when the latter is already five strides ahead of him. But this happens all the time, and the other elements - goalies that are tough to beat, stick lifts that come out of nowhere and an unbelievable propensity for scoring late goals - just make it worse. You can adjust some of this with the sliders, but the default should've been more of an incremental step up.

The presentation has also undergone some treatment, thanks to team-specific pre-game openings, and graphic overlays that more strongly resemble a TV broadcast. If a particular player is standing out, the game will compile a short highlight package with commentary from the great duo of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement praising his performance. The addition of the Winter Classic is nice, and it provides a good example of some of the presentation changes that have been made this year.

NHL 12 And last but not least, all the goodies you'd expect from online are still here. EASHL My Pro has a tweaked leveling system that sees incremental moves up. The six main levels - Amateur, Rookie, Pro, Veteran, Superstar and Legend - are there, but now they each have three levels, so it goes from Amateur 1, Amateur 2, Amateur 3 and so on.

Despite the fact NHL 12 looks a plays very much like its immediate predecessors, the tweaks, particularly around the net, are enough to change the way the game is played. Crashing the net and causing havoc in front can now yield more results than before, so that the old concept of "throwing pucks on net" can actually mean goals on the scoreboard.

Even so, interference penalties are called way too often, and crashing the net does incur a risk of getting hit with goaltender interference infractions. Goalie fights are cool, but a bit overhyped, in my view, and shooting mechanics with the right analog stick could use a little work. But all in all, this is a great game of hockey with plenty of depth that should keep you going until the next one comes along.

 

NHL 12Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
Format: PS3
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Official Site: http://nhl.easports.com/

Rating: 9 / 10


 
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